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Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH (Photo: flickr/cc/Marc Nozell)

Hillary Clinton Goes to Bat for GMOs at Biotech Conference

The potential presidential candidate's old industry ties resurface

Speaking at a conference in San Diego last week for the world's largest trade organization of biotechnology firms, potential presidintial candidate Hillary Clinton backed GMOs and Big Ag, further displaying her allegiance to the industry in the eyes of sustainable food and organic advocates.

While trumpeting her endorsement of GMO seeds when she served as Secretary of State, Clinton told the crowd that the term "'genetically modified' sounds Frankensteinish," and thus turns people off to GMOs. "Drought resistant sounds really like something you'd want," she said, encouraging the industry to improve their semantics. “There’s a big gap between the facts and what the perceptions are.”

"If Hillary Clinton intends to run for office in 2016, she should think carefully about supporting a food and farming system that is proven to be detrimental to public health." —Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association

Clinton's certainty concerning the safety of GMO foods stands in stark contrast to public opinion. A Consumer Reports poll in June found that 92 percent of Americans favor labeling the foods.

U.S. campaigners rejecting the industry's push for genetically-modified crops have been pushing hard to get states to pass labeling laws.

"Hillary Clinton's views on GMOs are disappointing, but not surprising," said Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Union, in an email to Common Dreams. Unfortunately, Paul continued, Clinton's positions are "no different than those of previous administrations, including the Bush, Clinton and Reagan administrations, and they are taken straight from the biotech industry's talking points."

"Credible scientists, backed by independent (not industry-funded) studies are clear about the fact that foods containing GMOs are linked to a host of chronic illnesses," Paul continued. "The American Medical Association has called for pre-market safety testing and a recent pilot study found unsafe levels of glysophate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, in the blood, urine and breast milk of American women."

During the hour that Clinton addressed the conference she also addressed fears that current subsidies and tax breaks aren't enough, or won't continue to be there in the future. “I don’t want to see biotech companies or pharma companies moving out of our country simply because of some perceived tax disadvantage and potential tax advantage somewhere else,” she assured the crowd, receiving vigorous applause in response.

"We should have an intensive discussion," Clinton said. “Maybe there’s a way of getting a representative group of actors at the table” so that the federal government can help biotechs with “insurance against risk.”

Clinton's ties to biotech have surfaced before, particularly her history with industry heavyweight Monsanto. The Rose Law Firm where Clinton worked in the 1980s represents both Monsanto and Tyson Foods.

Mark Penn, who served as CEO for one the world's largest public relations firms, Burson-Marsteller, which has also represented Monsanto, was a White House advisor under Bill Clinton and served as chief strategist and pollster to Hillary Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign.

During Hillary's tenure as Secretary of State, the State Department heavily pressured other countries to use GMOs through a variety of methods, including bringing foreign journalists to the U.S. to "participate in a one-week biotech tour" so that they could help shift public opinion in their home country.

Yet Clinton's choices in her personal life indicate she's not so convinced that the science is in on genetically modified foods. According to Walter Sheib, who served as White House executive chef during the Clinton presidency, the job offered him the "professional challenge of fulfilling Hillary Clinton's mandate of bringing...nutritionally responsible food to the White House," meaning nearly everything he used "was obtained from local growers and suppliers."

And as Mother Jones reported in 2012, Scheib said that while Clinton's rooftop garden at the White House wasn't "certified organic," everything in it "was absolutely grown without pesticides and fertilizers. I guess it's what these days we call 'natural.'"

"If Hillary Clinton intends to run for office in 2016, she should think carefully about supporting a food and farming system that is proven to be detrimental to public health," said Paul, "unless she and her family are willing to give up eating organic and eat the same toxic food that she promotes to the general population."

Watch a video of Clinton's comments below:

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